November 25, 2009

Following Blackwater's Tracks

Denial is inherently futile in politics. Deny Area 51 and people still believe anyway. Deny Blackwater in Pakistan and people are going to believe anyway. In the following case, which doesn’t exist, four denials make a fact.

Jeremy Scahill makes his living stalking Blackwater, having authored the controversial, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Too bad for him that the thunder of his exclusive report to The Nation was mitigated by Seymour Hersh. More than a shock, Scahill’s latest scoop is a yawn.

However, the trail he’s following becomes far more disturbing once it crosses out of Pakistan and back into America.

Scahill, citing a source with direct knowledge of Blackwater activity, reports the company has its hands in every military operation in Pakistan. The American and Pakistani governments, Blackwater, and its supposed front group Kestral Logistics, denied all claims. At this point they’re just going through the motions.

"Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the U.S. Government," Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo said in a statement to The Nation, adding that the company has "no other operations of any kind in Pakistan."

Sure you don’t. We know they can’t admit to the truth, they know Pakistanis know, they can’t do anything, and they don’t care. But the word is out.

Scahill writes, “For months, the Pakistani media has been flooded with stories about Blackwater's alleged growing presence in the country. For the most part, these stories have been ignored by the US press and denounced as lies or propaganda by US officials in Pakistan. But the reality is that, although many of the stories appear to be wildly exaggerated, Pakistanis have good reason to be concerned about Blackwater's operations in their country.”

It’s hard to find one accusation not already known to them: loading bombs on drones, scoping targets and planning missions for US special-ops, aiding Pakistani troops in “snatch and grabs,” and expanding its presence throughout Pakistan in general.

This story has more angle examining the incapability of America and Pakistan to either a.) counteract a false rumor, or b.) keep a secret. Blackwater’s firestorm is the latest proof that America is helpless to manage its image. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s propaganda machine is still broken.

All she can do is watch the rumors fly, like 202 Blackwater agents showing up on an inbound flight without going through custom procedure.

Now two of Scahill’s points are real concerns. Last month Dr AQ Khan, wanted for nuclear proliferation to Iran and North Korea, expressed threats to his life from Blackwater, and said the federal government needs to explain the matter if the rumors are false. So the kidnapping of Khan by Blackwater, however unlikely, is something to chew on.

The second point is near certain. Scahill reports, “Blackwater has a facility in Karachi. three trailers with various generators, satellite phones and computer systems are used as a makeshift operations center. ‘It's a very rudimentary operation,’ says the source. ‘I would compare it to [CIA] outposts in Kurdistan or any of the Special Forces outposts. It's very bare bones, and that's the point.’”

This of course was in 2008. The latest rumors have Blackwater buying the Pearl Continental hotel.

Blackwater is moving into Karachi. Everyone knows it because everyone’s looking for it. And who else is supposedly in Karachi? Mullah Omar, supposedly protected by the ISI according to special-ops, or possibly Blackwater agents. We’re watching a global chess game, but not some fake contest.

This is real strategy, real factions, real lives, costly outcomes. The situation could get ugly and everything will unfold before us to observe. But what about that which cannot be seen?

Scahill’s source said that Blackwater is so "compartmentalized" that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence. "This is a parallel operation to the CIA," said the source. "They are two separate beasts."

How right he is remains to be discovered, but the tracks lead in that direction.

"What I was seeing,” said Colonel Wilkerson, “was the development of what I would later see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Special Operations forces would operate in both theaters without the conventional commander even knowing what they were doing.”

CIA operations are subject to Congressional oversight, but not JSOC bombings, which could make up half of all drone attacks in Pakistan. Said Scahill’s source, “Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and the CIA knows that. They're not accountable to anybody and they know that. It's an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?”

So not only could the president and senators be out of the “love circle,” as the source calls it, they couldn’t do anything to stop it anyway. Humbling, isn’t it? Pakistan can’t stop Blackwater and neither can the American government.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, recently affirmed, "Every single intelligence operation and covert action must be briefed to the Congress. If they are not, that is a violation of the law."

So there goes the law too.

But Scahill’s realist omen pierces General Stanley McChrystal, chief of JSOC from 2003 to 2008 during its formative years of Rumsfeld and Cheney. Colonel Wilkerson expressed a growing concern that as the recently installed military commander in Afghanistan, the JSOC's power and influence will solidify within the military structure.

"I don't see how you can escape that; it's just a matter of the way the authority flows and the power flows, and it's inevitable, I think," Wilkerson told The Nation. "I'm alarmed when I see execute orders and combat orders that go out saying that the supporting force is Central Command and the supported force is Special Operations Command.”

JSOC is here to stay, and the contrast is stark. A top secret killing machine, half military-half civilian, operating in any country, any time, anywhere, developed by George Bush and his officials. The mission really kicked off in 2006, just when Secretary Robert Gates assumed his position.

Gates lobbied for McChrystal, gave the first press conference himself. President Obama agreed. He’s left Gates in power, who, despite whatever he says, will serve his whole term. McChrystal could be his general until the war is over, and this is what he’ll get.

"This is supposed to be the brave new world," Wilkerson says. "This is the Jamestown of the new millennium and it's meant to be a lily pad. You can jump off to Uzbekistan, you can jump back over the border, you can jump sideways, you can jump northwest. It's strategically located so that they can get their people wherever they have to.”

Obama is waging a dangerous gamble by allowing this program to continue under his watch. He must want it, or not know it. But Blackwater’s tracks lead to darkness, secrecy, a twisted mass of red tape, diplomatic powder-kegs waiting for a spark. His image could go up in flames.

Blackwater can’t go down. It went down in Iraq and simply changed its name and tactics. It’s getting paid more than ever. America is who suffered in Iraq and the same is true in Pakistan. Consider the magnitude of this folly.

America, under President Obama has publicly attempted a goodwill campaign towards Pakistan. At the same time, he’s deployed Blackwater to destroy America’s image in Pakistan. The rumors are out of control, from assassination to drunk, armed agents in US embassy vehicles. Blackwater doesn’t care about politics, it just wants to get paid.

America takes the fall.

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